I’ve got re-entry anxiety – but it’s not contagion I fear

It’s been well over a year since I started working from home and even my phone, programmed to deliver a daily dose of nostalgia, is out of ideas. “Here are your memories from last year,” it says cheerily, before kicking off a slideshow of the truly mundane – the gas meter reading, a closeup of the cupboard latch, best-before labels on a pot of yoghurt teetering on toxic.

It’s a fitting summary of the year in which every possible plot twist happened but, in the safe monotony of my flat, everything remained the same: wake up, screen, screen, screen, sleep. Perhaps the algorithm wasn’t wrong; maybe the admin accomplishments really were the highlights.

What will I say when the world returns to normal, I fret, when I’m asked, “How have you been all this time?” I imagine answering honestly. “Good thanks! Did a bit of DIY, online yoga, crying at any minor stress, then feeling guilty because others have it worse. Oh, and binge-watching Netflix to stave off intrusive thoughts about death.” But I’d never muster the courage.

Apparently there’s a term for it – re-entry anxiety – a fear of resuming pre-pandemic ways of life, having associated people with danger. It’s not contagion I fear but the lack of connection, feeling lonely in a crowd because I don’t know how to interact with people who are not “support bubble” close. And I have no good anecdotes – a facet of human interaction that I’ve only just learned to fully appreciate. (I miss the anecdotes more than the things – holidays, haircuts. Perhaps it’s why we say someone “holds court” when they tell a good story, because doing so is a luxury fit for a king.)

The good news is, we’re all experiencing re-entry anxiety, so perhaps connecting over stories of mouldy yoghurt is possible. And if not, if it’s just too cringe, that could make for a good anecdote another day.